The Opposite of Faith Is…

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This meme posted by the United Church of Christ, based on a quote by Elie Wiesel (US News & World Report, October 27, 1986) has shown up in a few news feed posts of late. The complete quote:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.”

At best he gets one or two out of four right. Love, beauty, and faith are all social constructs. They must be pretty clearly defined before we can know what their opposites are, if opposites of social constructs like these can even be said to exist. Scott Peck defines love in The Road Less Traveled as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Given that definition, that love is a choice, an extension outside of self, or work, I can roll with the opposite of love being indifference.

In another book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, Peck also takes on the nature of evil. He cleverly points out that “evil” is “live” spelled backwards, and has this to say about it:

“When I say that evil has to do with killing, I do not mean to restrict myself to corporeal murder. Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life — particularly human life — such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its head.
[…]
Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

So it seems that at least according to Peck, the opposite of life is neither death nor indifference, but evil – rather an active and proactive force, “that seeks to kill life or liveliness.”

In my Songwriting classes I feel I owe it to my students to try to define objective measures by which to evaluate the quality of their songs, their relative beauty. It seems a fool’s errand, but there is Thomas Aquinas at least, whose components of beauty include symmetry or coherence, structural integrity, and clarity. This works for songwriting. I could argue that the opposite of beauty is confusion, obfuscation, poor quality and incoherence rather than indifference. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, and for my purposes here I will take a pass on this one.

His inclusion of faith however is curious and sinister. There are multiple definitions of that word faith as well, and the religious often try to point out that even atheists have faith. The problem is that the religious use the wrong definition of the word. The Oxford Dictionaries lists two:

1) Complete trust or confidence in someone or something: this restores one’s faith in politicians

2) Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
2.1 A system of religious belief: the Christian faith
2.2 A strongly held belief or theory: the faith that life will expand until it fills the universe

Now it seems pretty clear to me that the first definition is based on some level of experience, or empiricism if you will, data. There is the “this” in the example sentence, after all. Same with the idea that I have faith that the chair I am sitting in will hold me up or that I may have faith that my friends will not let me down. I have experience that leads me to believe all this, and that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

But the Wiesel quote clearly implies the second definition. There is only heresy in religious faith, in the second definition where doctrines are involved. Oxford uses the word “proof,” in contrast to this kind of faith. So no, the opposite of religious faith is not indifference, but reason, evidence, data, empirical support.

Those of us who have abandoned or dismissed religious faith as a substandard, unreliable, untrustworthy, insupportable and unauthoritative view of reality, as a so-called virtue, or even as simply a filter through which to run the total human experience can not be wholly written off as “indifferent.” This is just one more way that even liberal theologies, as pure and virtuous as their intentions might be, cannot help stepping in it and marginalizing whole classes of people many of whom are actively working to bring love, beauty and life to the world. We are anything but indifferent. Doctrine simply must be abandoned or at the very least marginalized to the point of irrelevance if we are to ever have an inclusive, equitable and just world.

Revised YMCA Mission Statement

ymca_logoI love the YMCA. I love supporting them and their commitments to fitness, healthy living and social responsibility.They do great work. I used to enroll my kids in many of their programs. It is a Christian organization and yet it is inclusive with regard to sexual orientation and also actively cultivates diversity. I travel often and I almost always grab a temporary membership wherever I go so I don’t have to interrupt my workout routine. I am working out at the Y just outside of Portland, Oregon this week and they have little posters all around the place that put forth their vision and mission statements.

Vision
Igniting the Passion for Excellence: Spirit, Mind and Body
Mission
To put the Christian principles of love, respect, honesty, responsibility and service into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.

When it caught my eye of course I immediately realized that it is factually incorrect and needs a re-write. I am happy to offer them a more accurate version that focuses on and corrects two things – use of the word “Spirit,” and what they say are “Christian principles.”

The Spirit
The word “spirit” could be interpreted a number of ways. It could be more an attitude than a physical property. I could for example, think of the spirit of excellence, or something along the lines of “that’s the spirit!” But in both uses of the word here in their statements, it’s coupled with “mind and body,” an assumption of Dualism. There is no real peer-reviewed or empirical evidence whatsoever that there is such a thing as a spirit separate from the mind or body, and there’s also no consensus on what is even proffered by use of the word (those who believe in a spirit cannot agree on what it is, its mechanisms or properties). The confusion and complete lack of evidence and consensus renders the term nearly meaningless and the term must be deleted.

Christian Principles
Love, respect, honesty, responsibility and service did not show up when Jesus did, or Moses, and had been widely written about centuries before the first books in the Bible appeared. They are human principles, not Christian principles. One need not be Christian or have any faith at all to position and embrace these principles as their life’s central driving forces. I can appreciate the YMCA wanting to adopt and extol these virtuous aspects of humankind but to call them “Christian principles” is just factually wrong and exclusive.

Is this really that big a deal? Can’t I just let this slide? Well, on the one hand, yes, I could simply ignore it as I do so many other religious encroachments and co-opting of non-religious constructs for its own purposes. It does no great harm to anyone except in the perpetuation of the false idea that religion in general or any religion specifically is necessary to live a complete, full, and virtuous, human life. If these are Christian principles in any sense, it is because they are co-opted, borrowed from the larger umbrella of the universal human condition, not the other way around.

I therefor humbly submit the following revision to the YMCA Vision and Mission statements:

Vision
Igniting the Passion for Excellence: Mind and Body
Mission
To put the human principles of love, respect, honesty, responsibility and service into practice through programs that build a healthy mind and body for all.

Getting Me Back to the Faith

SpurgeonOjo, a while back you asked why believers would try to get you to return to the faith. I think this quote from Charles Spurgeon encapsulates the feelings of many of us. It does come from a good place znd [sic] not from a place of judgement or condemnation or even a feeling of spiritual superiority. God bless you my good friend! Continue reading

The Via Dolorosa and Way of the Rose

Via DolorosaI embedded a riddle into the song Way of the Rose, on the Undercover album Balance of Power (1990). To those who care, this is old news (it went around on Usenet here and here). But I do still get questions about it and recently two people have asked and since have solved it on their own. There are other aspects of the lyric folks have asked about too. Continue reading

Drive-By Blessings

Xmas CardI don’t know if this was some kind of collusion or something, but in the last week or so I have had a larger-than-usual number of posts to my Facebook wall that seem to have a common theme – a note with some aspect of positive intentions but qualified by a religious statement or affirmation of one kind or another: Continue reading

Six Things I Learned While Hiking Waterfalls

Dark Hollow Falls

Having just returned to Virginia from Phoenix, and perhaps because I was missing the Pacific ocean this summer, I found myself pining for water. With nothing pressing on my schedule I decided to spend the weekend hiking some of the waterfall trails in the Shenandoah National Park.   Continue reading

(At Least) Seven Ways God Had Around Hell

0202gateI’ve often said that the idea of hell was the lynchpin that once removed, led to the final undoing of what had been a slowly and steadily eroding faith, one that truly had died a thousand deaths. Having been intelligently challenged on hell over a two-day discussion was only the last straw.  Continue reading